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STUDIO: Elite Entertainment
MSRP: $9.98

RUNNING TIME: 89 Minutes
• Audio Commentary from Writer/Producer/Director Jack Hill
• Deleted Scene

The Pitch

“Karloff isn’t dead yet, #$*%@?&! Let’s prop him up in a chair and shoot a Mexican horror film!”

The Humans

Screen legend Boris Karloff (Frankenstein, The Body Snatcher, The Mummy), the beautiful Isela Vega (Bring Me the Head of Alfredo Garcia) and a bunch of other, less-than-legendary Mexican players.

Barbara Eden starred in a horrible TV version of the The Francis Farmer Story.

The Nutshell

Dr. Carl Mandel (Karloff) sends his daughter and her schlubby boyfriend into the belly of a sleepy volcano to find the source of some strange transmissions. What they find is a living rock that makes whimpering noises. Dr. Mandel’s team brings the rock back to his laboratory for tests, where they determine that the ancient rock-thing possibly represents the world’s oldest form of intelligence. Dr. Mandel hopes to find a way to communicate with the rock and learn its secrets, if he can keep it alive. What he soon learns is that the rock needs infusions of a chemical produced by human fear to survive. The scientists construct a wacky, funhouse-style fear chamber full of skeletons, snakes and miles of spider webs to terrify unsuspecting, young women and extract some of their fear-soaked blood to feed to the rock.

As sometimes happens in this kind of film, the rock becomes more powerful with each infusion of fear and begins to grow out of control. One fear donor, who looks like a sleek-jawed man until we see her in her underwear, snoops around the laboratory and gets a little too close to the steaming, bread pudding-like rock. Potential missing link Roland, one of Dr. Mandel’s more burly assistants, watches in delight as the rock sucks the youth and beauty out of the young woman. The rock eventually takes over Dr. Mandel’s computer system and lab as it gets stronger. When the doctor falls ill from the stress of his research, Roland and his female keeper Helga decide to continue the research by capturing and sadistically torturing young women for the rock to feed on. Roland develops a personal relationship with the rock when he thinks it will give him diamonds and make him a human god (It would be a miracle if it could at least make him more human). Then Roland and Helga hire a stripper for the rock’s viewing pleasure, which sends its rocky hormones into overdrive. The rock pays her with brutal life-suckage instead of rolled-up dollar bills. Through all of this, a swarthy guy with a turban and sunglasses sneaks around in the shadows, enjoying the sleaziness of it all until Roland breaks his head open.

"I don’t care how sick you are, you dirty old bastard. I will NOT

speak into the microphone!"

Dr. Mandel, along with his daughter and her beau, set out to defeat the beast by refusing to be afraid of it. I think it works, but a huge, unexplained series of explosions at the end may indicate that everyone dies. I’m left unsure how to feel.

The Package

Elite Entertainment has produced more than one competent DVD package in its history, including the excellent Millenium Editions of Night of the Living Dead and Re-Animator (as well as a standard release of a movie called Monsturd, which I must find and watch before I die). Their efforts with the Fear Chamber DVD are commendable, but they didn’t really have much to work with. The 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation is passable, but the picture itself is horribly grainy and often faded in the bottom left-hand side of the screen. It reminded me at times of watching a movie in a theater with a half-open exit door near the screen. The remixed 5.1 audio soundtrack offers little improvement compared to the video. Spreading the sound over more channels mutes it a bit and hides the annoying background hiss, but the hollow voice dubbing and ultra-cheapo sound effects just cannot sound good, so what’s the point? A stereo soundtrack has also been included for those who don’t like surround sound.

The absolute best feature of the disc, and the favorable soundtrack of the three that exist, is the commentary track with Writer/Producer/Co-Director Jack Hill. Because the film was the brainchild of Mexican producer Luis Enrique Vergara who wanted to make films in Mexico, Hill only directed scenes that needed to be shot in Hollywood, including all of the scenes with Karloff. He actually directed parts of (and wrote) four films at once, all starring Karloff, who personally approved each script. The rest of the directing duties went to Juan Ibanez in Mexico on all of the films. Hill relates these details and much more with a healthy dose of “look what these morons did to my scripts” resignation. He admits that once his directing duties were over, he moved on without knowing what happened to the films. Karloff and Vergara soon died, and Hill wasn’t even sure the movies were released until he saw bootleg video copies many years later. He complains that a lot of the scenes that made it into the films were not part of his stories. He also freely admits that Fear Chamber didn’t turn out too bad, despite the changes and some artsy directing techniques that he attributes to the favored style in Mexican cinema during the 60’s. Hill was one of many directors mentored by low-budget king Roger Corman, and like his more famous directorial brethren he seems to know his stuff pretty well, so I tend to trust his judgment of the film’s quality and believe that he wasn’t the one who messed it up.

Finally, the deuce of clubs has been eliminated.

The other feature on this disc is an extended scene of the stripper performing for the rock monster. In the film version, the stripper gets down to her panties amidst quick, less-naughty editing and is dispatched before a single nipple appears. The extended version offers all the nudity those heartless censors in the 60’s couldn’t abide. What a shame. More flesh would have kinked up this movie in a positive way.

The Lowdown

According to Hill, Karloff was quite happy with his performance in Fear Chamber, even though his serious health problems are impossible to hide. Karloff was stricken with emphysema and, according to Hill, had to use an oxygen tank in between his scenes. He barely moves from chair or bed in his scenes. Karloff worked a total of four weeks for the four combined productions, which include House of Evil, Isle of the Snake People and The Incredible Invasion. It’s too bad that he, like other actors of his generation, had to work on crapfests like this in the twilight of his career. He brings nobility and class to a production that really doesn’t deserve him. I guess actors who perform for a living can’t always choose to wrap up their careers gracefully.

Other than Karloff’s efforts, the rest of the movie can go screw. The voice dubs are always out of sync and unsavory in execution. The last half of the movie is made up of big lump Roland muttering words of friendship to the rock creature and tacky scenes of S&M play that would make a gimp limp. It doesn’t help that we never get a good look at the creature. There are plenty of shots panning around the edges of its habitat and distorted close-ups of its throbbing surface, but if I were to describe its overall size and degree of menace I’d put it somewhere between a large bowl of congealed gravy and a healthy volume of drying elephant shit. I’m not frightened by gravy or shit (at least in manageable quantities), so I guess this movie failed.

4 out of 10

"A word to the wise, youngsters: start a retirement fund now and get out

before you fade out."